A review of Black Power in Washington, D.C. 1961-1998, an interactive web-based map of Black Power politics, directed by George Derek Musgrove
Black Power in Washington, D.C. 1961-1998
George Derek Musgrove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Joshua Crutchfield, The University of Texas at Austin
George Derek Musgrove
Black Power in Washington, D.C. 1961-1998 is a web-based exploration of Black Power politics in the nation’s capital. Using historical narrative, photographs, and interactive geographic maps, this site explores the origins, explosion of movement activism, institutionalization, and resurgence of Black Power politics in the District between the years 1961 and 1998.
Project researchers began by building a list of major Black Power organizations and events in the District through secondary sources and newspaper articles. After we built a sizable list of terms, the researchers identified the addresses and start and end dates of these organizations and events and wrote short descriptions of each term, using newspapers and local archives. Toward the end of the project, director George Derek Musgrove visited several local archives and contacted local photographers to secure historical images. In the end, the researchers were able to collect the requisite information for over 180 sites and over 40 images. Once we had finished collecting the data, Musgrove wrote the essay that serves as an introduction and overview of the website.
The platform for Black Power in Washington, D.C. was designed and implemented by Musgrove and Kirubel Tolosa, an M.A. candidate in Information Systems at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) using the ArcGIS products StoryMap and Experience Builder. Our collaboration was generously supported by the Imaging Research Center at UMBC. Data for the site was researched, written, and edited by Musgrove; graduate students Kevin Muhitch (UMBC) and Donelle Boose (American University); undergraduates Luwam Gebreyesus and Ralph Cyrus (UMBC), Martez Gaines (Morehouse College), and Dalia Kijakazi (Spelman College); Jonah Jassie, a high school student; and the members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Black Power Chronicles.
The project aims to reach a broad, diverse audience of lay people and academics alike interested in D.C. and Black Power history. In recent years, as a wave of gentrification has swept over Washington, D.C., altering the city’s demographics and built environment, historians and hobbyists alike have created a number of websites and blogs that explore the changing cityscape. These sites have developed a significant user base amongst older residents looking for images of the city they knew and new residents seeking an understanding of their new home. We aimed to capture this significant local audience.
We also expected that historians and laypeople interested in the black freedom struggle would be attracted to this site. For the last several years, historians of the civil rights movement have created websites that chronicle the struggle in a specific city or region. These sites are remarkably informative, but can often be crowded and feature complicated navigation. We envisioned the Black Power in Washington, D.C. project as a sleek, user-friendly version of these sites, where students of the black freedom struggle can retrieve information easily and clearly identify how Black Power activism moved across space and time in the nation’s capital.1 Since launching on Feb. 1, 2021 the website has been viewed tens of thousands times and has received positive coverage in the Washington, D.C. press.2
Stokely Carmichael, Marion Barry, the Black Panther Party, the United Planning Organization, and the African Liberation Day Committee are just some of the familiar names and organizations featured in George Musgrove’s fascinating web-based map Black Power in Washington D.C. 1961-1998, which chronicles the proliferation, decline, and conservative resurgence of local Black Power expression. Musgroves argues that Washington, D.C. was a national hub of Black Power organizing, and digitally mapping the movement’s key events offers one way we can understand the breadth of the Black Power Movement. By digitally mapping the locations where Black Power organizing took place, Musgroves underlines the diverse ideologies D.C.’s Black Power activists produced. Black Power in Washington, D.C. is a critical tool for highlighting the spatial and temporal relationships between local activists, the ideas they produced, and how they spread locally, nationally, and internationally.
Musgroves joins scholars such as Rhonda Williams, Peniel Joseph, and Crystal Green who study local expressions of Black Power. These studies illuminate the varied forms and expressions local Black Power activists and intellectuals produced.3 In D.C., Musgrove highlights the wide array of Black Power organizing that ranged from organizations such as the radical Blackman’s Volunteer Army of Liberation to government-funded moderate groups like the Model Inner City Community Organization. As radical Black power expressions were co-opted, suppressed, and revolutionaries were killed or imprisoned, Musgroves contends that Black Power organizing was institutionalized into political and business structures. Musgroves’s undergirding claim that Black Power made a conservative resurgence through large actions like the Million Man March extends the periodization of the Black Power era which scholars typically end in 1980. However, we should be careful not to conflate the existence of Black politicians or Black nationalism with the general anti-colonial thrust against state violence that animated the politics of the Black Power Movement.
Through his creative use of the ArcGIS StoryMaps digital mapping technology, Musgrove, nonetheless, does illuminate the spatial and temporal movement of Black Power ideas and organizing. Black Power in Washington, D.C. allows users to read D.C.’s Black Power history alongside the locations on the maps where the events took place as they easily navigate by scrolling down the page. In addition, the primary source images enhance the visual experience so that navigating the page feels like taking a guided street tour of Washington, D.C. Because movements don’t exist in isolation, Musgrove should consider how to situate Black Power activism in D.C. within the larger national and international movement. For example, Musgrove highlights when Representative Adam Clayton Powell gave a commencement address at Howard University and echoed Stokely Carmichael’s 1966 call for Black Power. Drawing a singular connection between Powell’s speech in D.C. and Carmichael’s call in Greenwood, Mississippi would demonstrate the local exchange of national and global ideas that marked this period.
Black Power in Washington, D.C. highlights the diverse forms of political thought Black Power activists produced within the nation’s capital and provides one way to think about how their ideas moved throughout space and time. Musgrove’s mapping underscores how D.C.’s Black Power activists used public space, landscape, and the built environment to strengthen their arguments that Black communities needed and sorely lacked proper resources. Washington, D.C. high school, undergraduate, and graduate students are sure to find this project as a useful tool to understand the city’s current political and physical landscape. Each location and spot on the map is a departure point for unexplored topics in D.C.’s Black Power history. Black Power in Washington, D.C. is an excellent model highlighting how historians can capture Black Power organizing in their local cities.